Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of Our Time, by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (EvKL)
From the description of the book at the Mises Institute site:
[Kuehnelt-Leddihn] marshals the strongest possible case that democratic equality is the very basis not of liberty, as is commonly believed, but the total state…. He further argues the old notion of government by law is upheld in old monarchies, restrained by a noble elite. Aristocracy, not democracy, gave us liberty.
I will review here the first chapter: Democracy and Totalitarianism: The Prophets. To properly capture the meaning of the title of EvKL’s book, consider that democracy is the most appropriate, if not only, proper political expression for a society comprised of “equals.” So, you could consider instead: Liberty or Democracy.
The notion that tyranny evolves naturally from democracy can be traced back to the earliest political theorists…
Aristotle offers a glimpse; Plato's Republic offers “an almost perfectly accurate facsimile….” EvKL does not rely solely on such ancient sources; he focusses on those from the one or two centuries prior to the totalitarian twentieth century – those who saw the direction that the West was taking since the Enlightenment and could see where this path would lead.
The long gap in examples between Plato and the Enlightenment was because democracy during this intervening time was relatively unknown except for the case of certain city governments. This changed with the American and French Revolutions. Some observers saw this movement toward democracy as one which would provide stability and balance; others saw it merely as a step toward tyranny and total servitude.
EvKL offers a long list of such thinkers, concentrated in the first half of the nineteenth century. Something for me to consider, given statements I have made in the past: about half of these could be called liberals, and these were the most vocal in their denunciation of the pending evil:
Contemplating this list it is certainly no exaggeration to state that, during the nineteenth century, some of the best minds in Europe (and in America) were haunted by the fear that there were forces, principles and tendencies in democracy which were, either in their very nature or, at least, in their dialectic potentialities, inimical to many basic human ideals —freedom being one among them.
Democracy: the god that was destined to fail.
Standing Naked Before Man
Lord Canning, who had a sharp eye for the signs of the times, stated that “the philosophy of the French Revolution reduced the nation into individuals, in order afterwards to congregate them into mobs."
We saw this idea in Nisbet’s work. Democracy is based on all men created equal; democracy demands uniformity. It is this uniformity that threatens liberty and gives rise to tyranny:
Citing Benjamin de Constant, writing in 1814:
[Despotism] has an easier road with individuals: it rolls its enormous weight over them as easily as over sand.
Lower Your Shields
Lower your shields and surrender your ships.
We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own.
Your culture will adapt to service us.
Resistance is futile.
Continuing with Benjamin de Constant
The same code of law, the same system of weights and measures, the same regulations, and (if one can arrive at it) eventually the same language—this is what one proclaims the perfection of any social organization. . . .
Arguments in favor of liberty that are grounded in universalism cannot stand in the way of the totalitarianism that results from conformity; certainly, universalism demands ever expanding (in geography and scope) conformity, and conformity neuters the individual – more precisely, conformity destroys the intermediating social institutions that stand between man and an all-powerful State.
Jacob Burckhardt writes, regarding a speech of President U. S. Grant:
The complete programme contains Grant's latest address, which points to a single state with one language as the necessary aim of a purely acquisitive world
In the words of an early example of pop-culture virtue signaling, we are the world.
The Lowest Common Denominator
In one of many observations offered by EvKL that has a very unfortunate similarity to events of our own time, N. D. Fustel de Coulanges offers:
With two or three honourable exceptions, the tyrants who arose in all the Greek cities in the fourth and third centuries reigned only by flattering whatever was worst in the mob and violently suppressing whoever was superior by birth, wealth or merit. This technique, already noted by Plato, is intrinsically democratic—in the classic sense.
As Dostoyevski writes in The Possessed:
Shigalyov is a man of genius. He has discovered “equality." He has it all so beautifully written down in his copy-book. He believes in espionage. He wants the members of society to control each other and be in duty bound to denounce their neighbours. Everybody belongs to all and all belong to each single one. All are slaves and equals in slavery. As a final resort there will be calumny and murder; but the most important thing remains equality.
If equality is the objective, which task is easier – and certainly more likely: turn all men into Jesus Christ, or turn all men into the devil?
When economic efficiency is the criteria used for liberty….
It is the 26th century and humans have become “Numbers”—automatons who prioritise efficiency over freedom.
We is a dystopian novel by Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1921…. People march in step with each other and are uniformed. There is no way of referring to people except by their given numbers. The society is run strictly by logic or reason as the primary justification for the laws or the construct of the society. The individual's behaviour is based on logic by way of formulas and equations outlined by the One State.
In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued.
When a nation abandons its religious concepts a wicked and fear-inspired craving for union is generated which has as its goal the salvation of the belly. In this case social union has no other aim. … But the “salvation of the belly” is the most impotent of all concepts of union. This is the beginning of the end.
Democracy: Heads We Lose, Tails They Win
Macaulay, writing to an American friend in 1857:
I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilization, or both.
De Tocqueville writes:
The absolute monarchies have dishonoured despotism; let us be careful that the democratic republics do not rehabilitate it.
A Vanilla World
De Tocqueville describes “masses of men alike and equal" attracted by small and vulgar pleasures. Yet:
…above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications, and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild.
Other than the “mild” part, he pretty much nailed it. Further, even as early as his time, De Tocqueville sees a measure of groupthink unheard of in Europe – the majority controlling the walls of intellectual thought:
But the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind.
Count Montalembert offers:
To be sure, I am not speaking about Christian equality, whose real name is equity; but about this democratic and social equality, which is nothing but the canonization of envy and the chimera of jealous ineptitude. This equality was never anything but a mask which could not become reality without the abolition of all merit and virtue….
Emaciated (aka “Thin”) Libertarianism
He continues, with – it seems to me – a rebuke to those who place faith in the thinnest of thin libertarianism to survive application:
No, property, the last religion of bastard societies, cannot resist alone the onslaught of the levellers.Liberty’s Father
Vassili Rozanov offers:
The deeper reason for everything now happening lies in the circumstance that enormous cavernous hollows were formed in the European part of mankind by the vanishing Christian belief, and into these everything is tumbling.
Herman Melville, himself not a Catholic, regarding the Church of Rome, would write in Clarel:
Whatever your belief may be—
If well ye wish to human kind,
Be not so mad, unblest and blind
As, in such days as these, to try
To pull down Rome. If Rome could fall
Twould not be Rome alone, but all Religion.
As if not enough, he would add:
Rome and the Atheist have gained:
These two shall fight it out—these two;
Protestantism being retained
For base of operations sly
Juan Donoso Cortes, Marques de Valdegamas, offers in his speech before the Madrid Diet on January 4, 1849:
Liberty is dead! She is not going to rise again, not on the third day, not in three years, perhaps not even in three centuries….
The world, gentlemen, marches with rapid steps towards the establishment of the greatest and darkest despotism in human memory. This is the goal of civilization, this is the goal of the world. In order to be able to foretell these things one does not have to be a prophet. For me it is sufficient to contemplate this terrible maze of human events from its only genuine point of view—from the heights of Catholicism.
For Donoso Cortes, Christianity was the religion of liberty. By Christianity, he had one view in mind:
He insisted that the Reformation had fostered the rise of absolute monarchies all over Europe…
All Creatures Great and Small
The Marquis de Sade, one of the most original defenders of democratic dictatorship, combined his immoralism with the notion that the principle of equality should be extended to plants and animals, not only to man.
From Popular Science:
Should Animals Have The Same Rights As People? Humans have always seen themselves as distinct from other creatures, but science is forcing us to reconsider that position.
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all…. [Equal]
Henry Adams wrote, in 1905:
Yet it is quite sure, according to my score of ratios and curves, that, at the accelerated rate of progression shown since 1600, it will not need another century to tip thought upside down. Law, in that case, would disappear as theory or a priori principle, and give place to force. Morality would become police. Explosives would reach cosmic violence. Disintegration would overcome disintegration.
H. G. Wells, once Britain's leading progressivist, shortly before his death in 1946 was forced to write about "our world of self-delusion ":
It will perish amidst its evasions and fatuities. It is like a convoy lost in darkness on an unknown coast, with quarrelling pirates in the chartroom and savages clambering up the sides of the ship to plunder and do evil as the whim may take them.
After all, the present writer has no compelling argument to convince the reader that he should not be cruel or mean or cowardly. Such things are also in his own make-up in a large measure, but none the less he hates and fights against them with all his strength. He would rather our species ended its story in dignity, kindliness and generosity, and not like drunken cowards in a daze or poisoned rats in a sack. But this is a matter of individual predilection, for everyone to decide for himself.
As offered by EvKL:
In this lament we also see the bankruptcy of logical ethics without a religious basis obliquely admitted. Indeed there is no “compelling argument" not to slit anybody's throat except the Commandments given on Mount Sinai.
Día de Muertos
EvKL closes the chapter with the words of Goethe:
What kind of a time is this, when one has to envy those who have already been buried?
Another thought-provoking article. I think that anyone who reads this should stop and ponder a bit before commenting ...ReplyDelete
EvKL is a fountain of information. When I began reading Liberty or Equality, I was shocked just how many quotations he provides in his work. He's exposed to me to so many important figures of the last few hundred years. I haven't finished the book though because I got sidetracked by one of his other books, which is also excellent: "Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse."ReplyDelete
The guy is an extraordinary foe of equality and democracy and leftism in general. His views on left and right are almost exactly like my own. For instance, he sees that Nazism and Fascism are not right wing phenomena, but rather blatantly left wing.
I think he considered himself a liberal (in the European sense) Catholic monarchist. He's no libertarian, but every libertarian needs to read him.
EvKL is where I learned of Carl Ludwig von Haller, who's immense political treatise, "Restauration der Staatswissenschaft," I cannot read because I don't know German and there aren't any English translations available.
"To C. L. von Haller the final "choice" of a democracy was
merely between an " inner" and a foreign military conqueror."
and from Leftism:
"Absolutism, including monarchical absolutism, is certainly a political aberration which was always rejected by European "conservatives." C. L. von Haller, to name only one typical representative of Romantic conservatism, (no less than Ludwig von Gerlach) equated royal absolutism with Jacobinism."
EvKL speaks of many of these characters on the monarchical right as if they are interchangeable, but I think that Denoso Cortes and de Maistre were absolutists, whereas Haller may have been one of the few remaining limited government (medievalist not parliamentary) monarchists. Cortes and Maistre both had great criticism of democracy and where it leads, but their alternative, absolute monarchy, is only a little better. Maybe I'm wrong about them, but this is my impression after a little digging.
I'm surprised you didn't mention Cortes' "two interconnected thermometers." As Christianity recedes, state power grows, and vice a versa.
"He conceived an interconnection between what he called the " political and the religious thermometers "; Christianity, for Donoso Cortes, was the religion of liberty, and each weakening of this religious force was bound to be accompanied by an
increase of " external pressure." and "Continuing to talk about the mutual relationship between religion and government, Donoso Cortes emphasized that the alternative to the rising despotism was a religious reaction (which he thought highly improbable).
Sadly, a religious reaction (in favor of liberty) is most likely highly improbable in today's world as well. Libertarianism, which I now see properly as a secular, if emaciated, form of Christianity, may be our only shot.
"Sadly, a religious reaction (in favor of liberty) is most likely highly improbable in today's world as well. Libertarianism, which I now see properly as a secular, if emaciated, form of Christianity, may be our only shot."Delete
Then I am not sure we have any shot. I am not speaking of a return to Christendom; merely looking for Christian leaders to speak of the evils of the State, to speak of governance coming from family, church, community.
No other institution has the moral authority to do this and maintain it... oh, by the way, could be supported by a pretty powerful Guy if they would only walk the straight and narrow....
"merely looking for Christian leaders to speak of the evils of the State"Delete
That would be a great start. Where are the Catholic priests willing to defend liberty and call out the poisonous influence of state power? Maybe they are out there, and we just haven't discovered them yet.
Here's one we might get behind, though I haven't looked into him much. Just a potential.
"supported by a pretty powerful Guy"
Yeah it'd be nice to have some help from Him. I'm thinking, however, that this is more of a teaching moment for humanity, and He's gonna let us try to solve all the problems we created ourselves. To be fair, He's already given us the answer. We just have to take His advice and walk the path.
"Then I am not sure we have any shot. I am not speaking of a return to Christendom; merely looking for Christian leaders to speak of the evils of the State, to speak of governance coming from family, church, community."Delete
Really like this comment. It fits nicely with the other things you have uncovered. I would think a governance truly coming from family, church, and community would be some kind of natural law with mechanisms of removing those who tried to rule outside of it.
Great stuff, sir bionic.ReplyDelete
But that Hymn is Great, and does Not das that God Made Everything equal. Consider the fourth verse:
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
Natural hierarchy and all!
Greetings From germany.
Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. - H. L. MenckenReplyDelete
OK, I'm giving this a try. Please forgive me if this turns out to be long-winded.ReplyDelete
@Bionic: "... Democracy: the god that was destined to fail ..."
Democracy ALWAYS fails because people living closer to subsistence level are more easily swayed by the promise of moving away from subsistence through exploitation. In the words of the old adage:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government –
It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.
From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury,
with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship.
A republic is more difficult to bend because the representatives are generally better educated and better off and are less likely to buy into such promises. That depends, of course, on the representatives personal "price", their honesty and how honorable they are.
@Bionic: "... Democracy is based on all men created equal; democracy demands uniformity ..."
All men created equal, as envisioned by the US founders, was never supposed to mean uniformity in person - it was supposed to mean equal treatment under the law. It was the idea that power, money, rank and privilege did not exempt one from the consequences of the violation of the law. This is difficult to achieve, given man's penchant for avoiding labor of all kinds.
@Bionic: "... [Despotism] has an easier road with individuals: it rolls its enormous weight over them as easily as over sand ..."
Just the old strategy of divide and conquer. Apparently Sun Tzu is as applicable to culture as he is to war.
@Bionic: "... In the words of an early example of pop-culture virtue signaling, we are the world ..."
Some conformity is necessary in a society. A common language allows us to communicate. Common weights and measures allow us to have commerce with each other. Common regulations / laws help us to know what to expect from one another. Without these, our enslavement is made sure by better organized forces. Going beyond these or making them onerous weakens the societal bond. The trick is to find the happy medium.
@Bionic: "... To be sure, I am not speaking about Christian equality, whose real name is equity; but about this democratic and social equality ..."
This is what the culture we envision should be promoting - equity (justice / fairness), not equality (conformity)
@Bionic: "... The Marquis de Sade, ... combined his immoralism with the notion that the principle of equality should be extended to plants and animals, not only to man ..."
Of course. If you lower man to the status of animals, there is no logic to prevent this.
@Bionic: "... In this lament we also see the bankruptcy of logical ethics without a religious basis obliquely admitted. Indeed there is no “compelling argument" not to slit anybody's throat except the Commandments given on Mount Sinai ..."
As my Atheist friend would say, this statement is true so long as one does not realize the advantages of mutual cooperation. However, I'm fairly sure that, were he in a position of authority, he would likely use the position to his own advantage.
All in all, many excellent points are made in this article. I have saved it offline to refer to and to add comments as they occur to me.
I think we see successful democracies where the subject population is small and all known to each other – nowhere to hide. Many Swiss Cantons demonstrate the possibility. This, of course, is impossible once the size becomes such that people don’t have to face consequences from their friends and neighbors for votes based on envy.
Regarding some conformity, I agree. It is interesting how much conformity has been brought on by the market: various engineering societies set standards for weights and measure, just as one example. But this is market driven and market derived – voluntary, in other words.
@Bionic: "I think we see successful democracies where the subject population is small and all known to each other – nowhere to hide ... This, of course, is impossible once the size becomes such that people don’t have to face consequences from their friends and neighbors for votes based on envy ..."Delete
This is a wonderful point and may be part of the reason why smaller = better as far as liberty is concerned.
@Bionic: "... But this is market driven and market derived – voluntary, in other words."
Goes without saying. My atheist friend and I often speak of those ideas that are "so good that they're mandatory" and, as I have remarked before, a good thing becomes a bad thing as soon as you add compulsion.
"Arguments in favor of liberty that are grounded in universalism cannot stand in the way of the totalitarianism that results from conformity; certainly, universalism demands ever expanding (in geography and scope) conformity, and conformity neuters the individual – more precisely, conformity destroys the intermediating social institutions that stand between man and an all-powerful State." - BMReplyDelete
I definitely understand and agree with what you're saying, but let's not forget about the distinction between good and bad universalism. Universal conformity to a good ideal is to be celebrated I would think, but this conformity must be accomplished in an ethical manner, or in a manner which comports with the good universal ideal.
I think we'll both agree that what in large part made the Middle Ages so great was the universal ideal of Christendom (or Catholicism) spread among the various political domains. The commonly held notion of a res publica Christiana held political ambitions in check, and as you've pointed out, it wasn't until the values and integrity of this Christendom were weakened by a revival of pagan Roman law and the splintering of Christendom by the Reformation that the decentralized freedom of the Middle Ages gave way to the centralized "freedom" of the Modern Age.
"Some conformity is necessary in a society." - Woody
I agree. Kunstler had a great quote in a recent article commenting on our current lack of conformity in America.
"There’s nothing left of an American common culture besides a few Disney movies and that’s not nearly enough. That’s what happens when you opt for multiculturalism as your number one political principle. It automatically negates shared values, so why even expect any agreement between groups contending for dominance?" - J.H. Kunstler
"The deeper reason for everything now happening lies in the circumstance that enormous cavernous hollows were formed in the European part of mankind by the vanishing Christian belief, and into these everything is tumbling." - Vassili Rozanov
I'm becoming more and more convinced this is not only the truth, but the most important truth in understanding the rise of the modern state and its most notable post-Christendom expressions in post-revolutionary France, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Soviet Russia, and Imperialist America since Lincoln. I've not heard it put better or more succinctly than this. Good find!
ATL, I don't know if I would use the word "universalism" re the Church in medieval Europe; it certainly was generally accepted - and more certainly culturally accepted.Delete
A little noise around the edges helps keep a generally accepted framework vibrant, it seems to me.
In any case, I am guessing that we are more aligned than not on this point. And I agree fully with your comment re the Rozanov quote.